House of Commons
Monday 30 September 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
No-deal Brexit: Short Positions against the Pound
It is not appropriate for the Government to comment on specific currency market movements, or on market positioning—
I will do my best, Mr Speaker. One would not want to be accused of being unduly meek in the circumstances.
We accept the market-based price of sterling and do not have a view on what level this should be. Were the Government to speculate on the value of sterling, it could hurt confidence in our macroeconomic framework. However, as the price of sterling fluctuates in the normal way, Her Majesty’s Treasury believes that investors should be entitled to hedge, including by short selling. The foreign exchange market is a global market, and it is essential that we work with other jurisdictions to ensure a consistent international approach to the oversight of these markets. That is why the UK has supported the work of the Bank for International Settlements to create a single global foreign exchange code, and work is ongoing to ensure that it embeds common standards of good practice in this area.
The United Kingdom will be leaving the European Union on 31 October, whatever the circumstances. We must respect the referendum result. We would prefer to leave with a deal, and we will work in an energetic and determined way to get that better deal done.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post and congratulate him on his promotion.
The threats by the Prime Minister of taking our country over a no-deal cliff edge have created inevitable uncertainty in the markets, reflected in the varying position of the pound. Uncertainty, as we know, is the breeding ground for speculation. Evidence has mounted of sizeable sums being mobilised to short the pound, betting on sterling falling in the case of a no-deal Brexit. We have heard nothing from the Government until this morning. On the other hand, the former Chancellor has expressed his concern, saying that the Prime Minister
“is backed by speculators who have bet billions on a hard Brexit—and there is only one outcome that works for them: a crash-out no-deal Brexit that sends the currency tumbling and inflation soaring.”
The former permanent secretary to the Treasury, Nick Macpherson, said yesterday,
“Mr Hammond is right to question the political connections of some of the hedge funds with a financial interest in no deal. They are shorting the £ and the country, with the British people the main loser.”
Others will consider that what makes the situation so much worse is not just that we have speculators gambling on our country’s failure and at our country’s expense, but that the Conservative party has been willing to accept donations from those speculators. We are not talking about trivial sums: in this year alone, the Prime Minister and the Conservative party have received £726,000 from individuals who back a no-deal Brexit, many of them involved in hedge funds.
There are questions to be answered. Can the Minister confirm the Government’s estimate of the scale of speculation on the economic outcome of Brexit—placing bets on risks to our economy? Is there not a danger that the promotion of a no-deal scare by the Prime Minister, resulting in profiteering by his friends and donors, could be a seen as a conflict of interest by any standard, and contrary to the ministerial code, which says that Members
“must avoid real or apparent conflicts of interest”?
Should not the Minister who is responsible for overseeing the risks to our economy stand up to the Minister and tell him how inappropriate it is for any candidate for prime ministerial office, or any party, to accept funds from individuals who are speculating on the potentially enormous risks to our economy from no-deal Brexit? Will the Government now support Labour’s proposals for an inquiry into the finance sector, including the regulation of hedge funds and short selling?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about uncertainty, but the only people generating uncertainty in this place are the Opposition. It is they who are selling this country short. They will not vote for a deal, they will not vote for no deal, and they will not vote for a general election. As anyone who talks to British business knows, the main threat to our economy would come from the economic policies we heard set out in Brighton last week.
As I set out in my remarks, the Government’s central position is that we are working to secure a good deal, and the focus of that will be at the summit on 17 and 18 October. That remains our overwhelming focus and our best hope. Clearly, it does not help when the Opposition come together to remove our negotiating leverage in those vital talks.
The right hon. Gentleman referenced the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond) for all the work he did as Chancellor to help prepare for no deal. We have been able to build on that over the last few weeks. I would note, however, when it comes to some of the more outlandish speculation in this area, that Frances Coppola in the Financial Times, in an article entitled, “The Mythical Bets On No-Deal Brexit”, wrote yesterday that this was yet another “tinfoil hat conspiracy theory”. That is about the sum of the merit of this debate.
The Government will not comment on individual positions—no one would expect us to—or the actions of individuals. We do not accept that there is any prospect of a conflict of interest. Insofar as anyone needs standing up to, it is not my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister; it is the right hon. Gentleman, who is making a political and, dare I say it, speculative attempt to throw mud around the House. I did not hear anything in his statement or questions that amounted to a substantive point; they amounted to trying to propagate myths and to smear. In a week when we are trying to lower the temperature in the House, the Opposition seem intent on stoking it. I have nothing further to add.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his elevation to this important role. While many of us on the Government Benches, and in fact across the House, are concerned about the impact on currency markets of the obvious contradiction between the Benn Act and the Government’s consistent position that we are leaving on 31 October, everybody on the Government Benches is united in the knowledge that the real damage to this country would be done by the Labour party getting any place in government. Every time it makes an announcement, it affects the markets, and that is what gives further uncertainty to this country and that is what would truly damage our economy.
Of course, I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. We heard the danger set out last week. I thought that the prospect of a three-day week was bad; well, the Opposition have decided to split the difference and have a four-day week. Much of what we heard in Brighton was a recipe for business disaster and the very damage that we need to avoid and which we have spent the last nine years trying to put right.
The pound was shorting at a two-year high in August. The Prime Minister’s sister, Rachel Johnson, has said that people
“have invested billions in shorting the pound or shorting the country in the expectation of a no-deal Brexit.”
The former Chancellor has said that
“there is only one outcome that works for them: a crash-out no-deal Brexit that sends the currency tumbling and inflation soaring.”
Frances Coppola, who the Minister was keen to quote earlier, said that at the very least there was a conflict of interest. The Prime Minister received at least £375,000 from donors associated with hedge funds during his leadership campaign, and we already know from the Jennifer Arcuri case that he is no stranger to conflicts of interest. Will the Minister launch an investigation into this whole affair, because the public need to know what is going on behind the scenes? Will he also accept that those who are already wealthy seem to have everything to gain from a no-deal Brexit but that my constituents and thousands and thousands of others across these islands are still struggling to make ends meet after a decade of austerity and it is they who have everything to lose?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We served together on the Treasury Select Committee. She speaks about her constituents. My constituents in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland could not by any metric be described as wealthy and they enthusiastically support the idea of our delivering on our manifesto commitment—and indeed on the referendum result—to leave the European Union. The Government’s position on no deal is very clear: we want a good deal, a fair deal, that does not leave this country as a rule taker in perpetuity. If we secure a deal, my point, very simply, to the Scottish National party would be: if they want to avoid no deal, they should vote for the deal we bring back.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appearance at the Dispatch Box. Does not that limp excuse for an urgent question reveal the contempt the Opposition have for financial markets, which contribute 11% of tax revenue to the Exchequer? Does he agree that the fact that, of the $6.6 trillion of currency dealing done globally, 43% is now done in the City of London—a record high—is a vote of confidence in the City and the way the Government are handling it, and how far does he think the pound would fall if that lot on the Opposition Benches ever got into power?
The pound would need a good head for heights in that scenario. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The City of London is, of course, one of the great assets of this country and something we should celebrate rather than castigate. It is a source of enormous tax revenue, which underpins our vital public services, and there is no doubt that it is one of the key cards in our hand when it comes to the Brexit negotiations and securing a good deal. So I absolutely agree with him. We sometimes need to do more to talk it up, rather than talking it down.
The Government’s position is that we do not adopt a fixed target for sterling, as clearly we believe that it is sensible for the currency to find its own level in various circumstances. Obviously that freedom for the currency to float is important. Look, all of us in this House believe that the country will succeed in a whole variety of different scenarios. I believe that sterling will find an appropriate level in any scenario, and clearly there are aspects of a fall in sterling that would make it easier to export, so it is not a zero-sum game. We have to trust the market to find its own level.
There is one obvious point, even for people, like me, who are not economists: if we talk down the country and the economy, that is where the economy will go. Thank goodness the Labour party is not in power, because it would destroy the economy.
That is exactly the point I was making, because we need a bit of self-belief in our country. Here we are in the world’s fifth largest economy, and in a country that is widely regarded around the world as a bastion of strength, and we will absolutely succeed in all scenarios. When it comes to Brexit, the Government’s strong preference is to get a deal, but the overwhelming point that people need to hear from this Dispatch Box is that we are leaving the European Union on 31 October, delivering what the people asked us to do, and indeed what most of us in this House were elected specifically on manifestos to deliver.
The Guardian is today reporting that Crispin Odey is shorting house builders and shopping centres, which means that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, when they cannot build homes and more shops close, he will make a packet. Surely the Minister can see that there is a massive conflict of interest, particularly for the Leader of the House, who has been financed by that man for years.
The passion that the hon. Lady shows is certainly a match for what I heard when I was in Bishop Auckland recently to address some of her constituents, because they were very clear that we should be leaving the European Union. I have already said that I do not propose to comment on the actions of individuals, because clearly it is for them to account for their actions. The Government do not take a position on the actions of individuals. We do not take a position on the issue of short selling.
May I welcome the Minister to his post? Does he agree that a sure-fire way of stopping speculators benefiting from a no-deal Brexit would be for the shadow Chancellor and his comrades to vote for the Prime Minister’s deal when he brings it back and to stop no deal in the first place?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Clearly, if we can secure a good deal that is fair to this country, which is our central aim, that is what everyone in the House should get behind, because that will take our country out of the European Union on the smoothest basis—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) says “Fantasy” from a sedentary position, but what I think is fantasy is the idea that our chances of securing a good deal are improved by continuing to propagate a surrender Act. That is the problem, I am afraid to say, that lies at the heart of this debate. The Opposition are, in essence, trying to take power without responsibility, and it is highly unfortunate and detrimental to this country’s interests if we do not all work together as a nation to deliver on what we, as a country, decided was our future course of action.
Can the Minister confirm that the Government’s own economic assessment shows that a no-deal Brexit would have the most damaging consequences for the British economy, investment, jobs and businesses? As that is the case—[Interruption.] Well, we have all read the assessment produced by the Government. As that is the case, can he explain to the House why he is prepared to contemplate that outcome, given the impact it would have on British business?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a point that we have often debated in the House. We believe on the Government Benches in delivering on the referendum mandate, which was to trigger article 50 and leave the European Union. The operation of article 50 is clear—we leave with a deal if we can secure it, but without a deal if we cannot. The Government have invested billions of pounds in no-deal preparation. Much of that money has been invested subsequent to the November 2018 report, which did not touch on dynamic policy options open to the Government after we leave the European Union. I think in my own region, for example, of free ports. The modelling is not perfect, and does not encompass all the options that are open to us. None the less, as I say, the base case—the Government’s working assumption—is that we will leave the European Union with a deal.
That is what we are working towards. The crucial summit is only three weeks away, and it would help if the House got behind the Government’s efforts to try to secure a sensible deal, take us out and move the country forward. This is the umpteenth debate that we have had in the House on this issue. We go round in circles and do not make progress, because one side of the House refuses to contemplate any sensible way out of this impasse.
I gently remind the House that the thrust of the urgent question relates to short positions being taken against the pound. This is not a general, Second Reading-style debate on the merits or demerits of a no-deal Brexit, of which the House has treated before and doubtless will do so again. It is on the specific matter to which I have just referred, and I feel sure that our hon. Friend from the west country is a noted authority on this matter, on which he is about to expatiate.
Thank you Mr Speaker, you are very kind. It is wonderful to see the Minister in his place, oozing calm and authority, in sharp contrast to the stoking of fears and division on the Opposition Benches. We have just heard about the risk to the economy, but the real risk to the economy is not Brexit nor yet a no-deal Brexit. The real risk is letting the shadow Chancellor anywhere near No. 11 or the Treasury.
Does the Minister not find it ironic that the shadow Chancellor should be concerned about the future value of the pound and the impact on speculation, given that he and his party have spread economic gloom and doom, have talked the economy down, and have proposed lunatic economic policies if ever he should get his hands on the levers of power in this country? Does the Minister agree that the real honeypot for speculators is not our leaving the EU but the prospect of a Labour Government?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment. He is doing brilliantly in his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. He discussed bringing certainty to the markets by delivering Brexit. The main message that I hear from constituents in Harrogate and Knaresborough is that after three and a half years of talking there has been enough talking—why do we not just get on with it? Does he agree with them?
I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a distinguished holder of this office. He is absolutely right. There is in all walks of life a demerit to uncertainty. There is a real problem whereby we marched the country up to the top of the hill in the run-up to 29 March, then had to march down again. We are close to our projected exit date of 31 October. It would be really, really problematic for all those businesses that are making preparations, and in some cases stockpiling provisions as well, to keep going backwards and forwards on this question. The country voted to leave in 2016. It reaffirmed that by voting by over 80% for the two main parties that were committed to delivering on that result in 2017. We need to get on with the job. There would not be anything for people to speculate on if we could achieve certainty in the House.
Over the weekend, I watched “The Big Short”, and I would encourage everyone to watch that film about sub-prime mortgages. In it, there were several hedge funders who made billions from the collapse of the market. They did not care that honest, ordinary Americans lost their homes and jobs. When that happens, when we have a no-deal Brexit and hedge-fund managers make billions, how will the Minister support my constituents, who will be impoverished, and will perhaps lose their jobs and homes? What is he going to do to level the playing field? Actually, it is a question of morality.
I am an historian rather than an economist, but I certainly do not take my lessons on hedge fund activity from Hollywood. We need to be very clear about the fact that there is a real need to provide certainty, and that certainty is hugely important.
Let me say gently—and it is gently—that I did not vote for the deal on the first two occasions when it came forward, for the very reasons that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did not do so, namely the concerns about the backstop provisions. Those provisions need to be addressed, and we are working to address them. Fundamentally, we did vote to leave, on a deal or no-deal basis. The hon. Lady’s constituents voted to leave the European Union. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) says, from a sedentary position, “Not on a no-deal basis.” I find that my constituents are very clear about the fact that they voted to leave, deal or no deal, and that was very clear at the time.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new position. He is truly doing sterling work this afternoon. It will come as no surprise to him to learn that I am fully in favour of well-run and smooth capital markets, from which London is reaping an international reward. Would he care to speculate on what sort of short-selling and sterling damage would be done under the Labour party—given their unfunded tax proposals and their potential sequestration of public assets—and what the market would think of them if they were anywhere close to power, which I pray that they will not be?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am afraid we cannot get around the fact that we are now dealing with something very dangerous in terms of the division between the two parties: the division between economic rationality and a programme that would well-nigh destroy the free-market economy in this country. [Interruption.] Labour Members scoff and sneer, but the reality is that anyone looking at the prognosis from the Labour party conference last week—let alone the trillions of pounds of commitments that Labour is now adding up—will see that it would not only destroy our public finances, but would do massive damage to the competitiveness of British business, on which jobs and homes and mortgages depend.
Does the Minister accept the specific conclusions in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s fiscal risks report? In July, the OBR ran a stress test on a no-deal scenario, on the model of the International Monetary Fund. It predicted that sterling could depreciate by 10% immediately, because
“market participants judge that a fall in the pound is needed to compensate for the reduced competitiveness with the EU… inflation is initially higher, due to the weaker pound”,
which contributes to the UK’s entering “a year-long recession”. Does the Minister accept the OBR’s analysis, or does he believe that this is “a price worth paying”?
What I will say is that I believe we can avoid that scenario entirely if we get a good deal and leave the European Union according to plan, on 31 October. We are very clear about the fact that, in a scenario whereby we cannot get a deal through the House, we will deliver on the referendum mandate and leave the European Union. That is uncontested Government policy. We will ensure that we make the dynamic policy choices that will enable our economy to remain strong, robust and full of opportunity.
Tempting as it is to follow the trail laid down by my hon. Friend, I will content myself with saying that, just as I would not comment on the actions of individuals in my reply to an Opposition Member, I will not comment on the actions of individuals now. However, the idea that there are vested interests on only one side of the debate could clearly be contested.
One of the areas of the economy that the casino-style hedge funds will be betting against is the housing market. What assessment has the Treasury made of how many fewer homes will be built, and which section of the house building economy will be worst affected: renters, first-time buyers or pensioners?
To the best of my knowledge, we have not commissioned specialist advice on the housing market. If I am incorrect, I will ensure that that is set out in writing to the hon. Lady. It is very clear that the UK housing market is in its most robust condition for many years. Indeed, we are now building many multiples of the situation we inherited in 2009, when house building had well nigh stagnated. Of course, many of the problems faced in our housing market stem from the disastrous failure of the last Labour Government to build enough homes in the first place.
Uncertainty hits not only the London markets but the markets in Edinburgh and elsewhere across the United Kingdom. Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to end this uncertainty is to vote for a deal, as he did back in March?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Yes, I did vote for a deal on 29 March, and I did so because I feared losing Brexit altogether. I think that was a real risk at that point, and it remains a real risk now, thanks to the antics of the Opposition. If only all of Scotland was as well represented as those areas represented by the Scottish Conservatives, who of course have adopted a totally sensible and unifying position, which is that we should get on and deliver, as one country, what our one country voted for.
The economies of the UK were damaged almost irreparably by spivs and speculators in 2008. Have the Government and the Prime Minister learned nothing from that experience, which hit the poorest in our society the worst? This is not about whose policy position is best or worst; this is about transparency, honesty and the Prime Minister’s relationships with these short-changers to society. Will the Minister acknowledge the seriousness of the matter and call an independent investigation into the Prime Minister’s conduct?
Actually, this is about democracy and whether we implement the result of a national referendum in which more than 34 million of our fellow citizens expressed their view. For my part, I intend to honour what they voted for. That is the position of this Government, and I think that view is shared by anybody who understands the damage that preventing our leaving the European Union would do to faith in democracy.
My hon. Friend is doing a great job on the Front Bench, to which we welcome him. This urgent question is deeply partisan and political—we all know that—but it strikes me that our economic growth looks pretty good this year. PwC also predicts pretty good economic growth. Just to negate the nonsense coming from the Opposition, can my hon. Friend tell me how well preparations are going for a no-deal exit?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the third quarter figures for the UK economy look very robust. Clearly, there is a lot to be said about the ongoing work to make sure that we are ready for a deal or no-deal scenario. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor delivered the spending review earlier this month and today he will give an excellent speech in Manchester, no thanks to the Opposition, setting out our plans for how we move forward. Clearly, we are deploying billions of pounds and the most robust plans available to make sure that we are ready to thrive in all scenarios.
When the last Conservative Chancellor, a former permanent secretary to the Treasury and the Prime Minister’s own sister blow the whistle, the Minister simply cannot brush aside these most serious claims of a conflict of interest. Some of the Prime Minister’s biggest donors are clearly betting against Britain, and, intentionally or not, the Prime Minister is aiding and abetting them by pursuing a no-deal Brexit. I therefore ask again: will the Government set up an urgent independent investigation?
Does my hon. Friend agree that speculation in the future movements of markets or currencies—some people think they will go up, others that they will go down—is a sign of a healthy free market economy, and that there is no speculation in the direction of travel of the shadow Chancellor’s favoured economic model in Venezuela, where the bolivar continues to crash, which is hardly surprising because inflation there is running at about 1 million per cent. this year?
My hon. Friend puts it with his customary robustness, but he is absolutely right that the real threat to the economy, to the strength of sterling, to our competitiveness and to jobs and living standards across the country would be a series of bad decisions made by a reckless, hard-left Labour Government.
My constituents and the Minister’s constituents are working multiple jobs and long hours to keep themselves afloat. Does he understand at all just how distasteful it is for them to see people making millions betting against our country?
I yield to nobody in my appreciation of how hard people work in the Tees valley and, indeed, how passionate they are about our area, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that democracy needs to be honoured. We need to deliver on the referendum result and to get this done. There will no actions for the City to take if we get a good deal across the line and the hon. Lady votes for it.
In June, the Bank of England reported that, thanks to the mitigation and preparation put in place by the Government, any hit to GDP in the event of a no-deal Brexit would be reduced by two and a half percentage points. Will the Minister, whom I welcome to his position, confirm that we have had more preparation since then? That means we should be further protected, meaning these individuals will not make their money.
My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right that we are stepping up our preparations to cover all eventualities. That is why we made provision in the spending review, which was designed to ensure that we go into this autumn with the options open to us kept as wide as possible. Of course, it is also why the provisions of the surrender Act, which the Opposition brought forward against the will of this Government, are so unwise.
Does the Minister not understand that my constituents in Bristol West are smart enough to spot the hypocrisy of Members on the Treasury Bench telling us that we should vote for a deal when, first, none exists and, secondly, they did not vote for it last time? Does he not understand that my constituents can also spot the other hypocrisy of criticising people for making uncosted spending assessments mere hours after the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said he does not know how he will pay for all these hospitals he has promised us? Does the Minister not understand that my constituents can spot all of this?
I struggle to see what all that necessarily has to do with the question before the House, but what is very clear is that most people in Bristol are also smart enough to spot that it would be thoroughly unwise to ignore the result of a democratic referendum.
The best way to stop the speculation and the uncertainty is for the Government to accept there is a majority in this House that will not let a no deal happen and, therefore, if the House does not agree a deal, we will not, in fact, be leaving on 31 October.
In response to an earlier question the Minister said he is more of a historian than an economist, so he might remember that hedge funds were also reported to have taken short positions against the pound during the 2016 referendum. Is he satisfied that the regulation of short selling and hedge funds is adequate?
Is not the shadow Chancellor peddling conspiracy theories about shadowy figures working with the Government to manipulate the economy for personal gain because he is a self-proclaimed Marxist who wants to undermine trust and confidence in how our economy and our country work? [Interruption.] It is no laughing matter, as that is what he is trying to do. There have, in fact, already been two investigations into these wild claims. One, as we heard earlier, by the Financial Times that said this is
“firmly in the realm of conspiracy theories.”
The second investigation was by the independent fact-checking organisation Full Fact, which demolished this crazed nonsense in an article headlined, “We think there’s a big error in that viral article about hedge funds and Brexit”.
Would that all parts of our country were as well served as Dudley is by the hon. Gentleman, who is absolutely right: it is genuinely dispiriting that in the mother of Parliaments we find ourselves debating material that is more fit for the tinfoil hat brigade than for Parliament at a crucial time in our country’s history.
As deputy general secretary of the old Transport and General Workers Union and then Unite, I led the battle against the Kraft takeover of Cadbury. A successful and profitable British icon was taken over by a debt-laden American multinational because the hedge funds bought 31% of the shares and sold Cadbury short. Does the Minister not recognise that there is a potential conflict of interest when we have a Prime Minister prepared to sell Britain short by way of a no-deal Brexit, backed by those who make billions daily out of selling our nation short?
The short selling regulations cover the sale of shares, so that falls within the remit of the existing legislation. Clearly, we all want to see our country thrive and move forward towards a better future. That will be best done by voting for a deal, as of course many of the members of the hon. Gentleman’s former trade union will have done.
I hope the Minister recognises that we are talking not about companies protecting themselves in good faith from the devastating impact of a no-deal Brexit, but about large-scale—industrial—shorting of the pound, that that can drive extreme behaviours, as well as market crashes, and that, at the very least, this needs to be investigated by the Electoral Commission, in order to see what the influence is. But my question to the Minister is simple: does he know the level of exposure to the shorting of the pound?
The Government do not take a view on this issue. [Interruption.] But what is clear is that the hon. Lady can avoid the outcome that she so wants to avoid, by voting for a deal when one is brought forward—that is, and always remains, the case. So we now need to move forward with some purpose, rather than with wild speculation, trying to smear the Government as somehow being in hock to these interests—it is not working. Any rational observer will see that this is not an argument that sustains itself.
The Minister keeps trying to make this about leaving the EU on 31 October or not, but it is all about transparency and conflict of interest. We are talking about hedge fund managers who previously backed the leave campaign and in 2016, after the referendum, made some £350 million overnight. Therefore, £375,000 of backing to the Prime Minister is nothing compared with the billions of pounds these people might make if there is a no-deal crash out. Surely the Minister understands that this is about a conflict of interest and transparency. If he is so confident about the Government’s behaviour, why does he not authorise an investigation?
The hon. Gentleman needs to recognise that our country is absolutely determined to leave the European Union on 31 October. Rather than trying to prevent that, and, in so doing, making no deal more likely, he should get behind the Government’s efforts to secure a good deal.
Let me give the figures some context. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that back in 2016 Odey fund management made £300 million on shorting sterling. By contrast, the UK automotive industry has spent £350 million ensuring that it is protected against a no-deal Brexit. Does the Minister not recognise that we are vulnerable in our manufacturing sector—in our heartland communities—to losing jobs and businesses because of the practices of these short sellers? Lord Macpherson, the former permanent secretary to the Treasury, has tweeted:
“Mr Hammond is right to question the political connections of some of the hedge funds with a financial interest in no deal. They are shorting the £ and the country, with the British people the main loser”.
What does the Minister say?
I point to the wise words of the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip in the House of Lords last November, who said that short selling
“is not necessarily the evil practice that the popular press held it to be…It had a role.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 November 2018; Vol. 794, c. 706.]
Short selling may have a role, but not when Government policy deliberately manipulates the currency to provide a big pay-out to individuals who have paid huge amounts of money either to the Conservative party or to individual right hon. Members. That is the problem. Does the Minister not understand that this is not about the Government’s taking a position on currencies? It is about the stink of something that does not seem quite right.
The Minister quotes Frances Coppola, but she also said:
“Many hedge-fund managers see Brexit…as an opportunity from which they obviously hope to profit, and they are positioning their portfolios accordingly”.
She fears that that creates “psychological pressure” on the Prime Minister
“to deliver what his backers want rather than what is in the best interests of the country”.
How can the Minister convince the people of the UK that the Prime Minister has the moral courage to resist that psychological pressure?
The Prime Minister has the moral courage to deliver on the referendum result, take our country forward, deliver what millions of people voted for and make our country a better place to live. If we are going to exchange quotes, let me quote a bit more from the article:
“In short, there is no evidence that the hedge funds that have backed Johnson’s election campaign have ‘millions of pounds’ of speculative bets on no-deal Brexit. They have millions of pounds of speculative bets on UK companies, yes, but that is simply business as usual.”
The reason why this is not business as usual is that we are faced with Government Ministers who have close connections with and financial interest in some of the speculative funds and who are making a decision that would have catastrophic consequences for my constituents and for businesses in my constituency, and there is no transparency as to the closeness of that relationship. It cannot be divorced from what is going on in this place, which is why the Minister needs to agree to the requests for an inquiry. We need to get to the bottom of this.
The Government are doing what they are doing because we believe it is right to leave the European Union on 31 October, as we all promised that we would. That is absolutely what animates our actions; any suggestion to the contrary is not just wrong but offensive.
How does the Minister defend a situation in which anyone who is caught insider gambling deliberately to fix the result of a game of cricket goes to jail, but anyone who is insider gambling deliberately to crash the economy is likely to end up in the House of Lords?
I welcome the new Minister to his place. Will he clarify the statement he made earlier that the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), is part of the tinfoil hat brigade perpetuating a conspiracy theory in regard to this serious matter?
A number of hedge funds expect to benefit as a result of their short positions on a number of sectors in the economy, including construction and shopping centres. It cannot be right that as a deliberate result of Government policy those hedge funds are going to cash in at the expense not only of those sectors but of the constituents of every single Member of this House.
Government policy is to leave the European Union with a deal, if at all possible, and that remains our central case. The hon. Gentleman’s question in many ways summarises the past few minutes, in so far as it does not get to the substantive point, which is that the only reason we are at risk of a no-deal exit is that we have not managed to persuade the Opposition that they should get behind our attempts to secure a better deal rather than seek constantly to undermine them.
I am deeply disappointed by the news that Wrightbus has had to enter administration. This is a real blow for the people of Ballymena. A number of redundancies have been announced. This clearly creates an extremely difficult situation for all those who have lost their jobs and for their families. Support will be provided to those affected via the Northern Ireland civil service, and I—along with my hon. Friends—will continue to do everything that I can, as I have been doing over the weekend and in previous weeks, to work with Invest Northern Ireland and Government colleagues to support any potential purchaser of the business or assets who may be identified during the process of administration.
I thank the Secretary of State for what he has said. To put this matter in perspective, the loss of those jobs is the equivalent of about 30,000 to 40,000 jobs being lost on mainland UK, so it is devastating to the Northern Ireland economy—it is a huge blow to our economy.
I thank the Government, first of all, for what they have done, and what they have indicated behind the scenes that they intend to do, for any purchaser. The Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the Business Secretary have all made that very, very clear. However, let me ask the Secretary of State the following questions. Will he spell out to any investor what Government support would actually look like in terms of research and development, soft loans or grants? Can he assure me that the party currently at the table is fully aware of the extent of the promised support and what it would actually look like to assist it in this process? Will he ensure that public transport, by way of hydro and other electric power, will receive special support to make sure that Northern Ireland and the UK’s public transport sector provides the greenest technology possible, and present itself as a huge selling point around the world? Will he recognise that arm’s—length bodies such as Translink and FirstGroup and other bus buyers need to be encouraged directly with economic assistance to buy more British-made buses? Will he ensure that in future all bus orders go through British companies, therefore supporting British jobs and British investment?
On a practical level, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure, and spell this out to the workers—our heart has to go out to the 1,200 or so workers who have lost so much and who are devastated at the present time—that practical support will be given to them. I know that about £14 million of redundancy has been paid out, but practical support is also needed, such as issuing the P45s quickly, and making sure that workers in Malaysia and here on mainland GB are brought home to Northern Ireland as quickly and expeditiously as possible.
My hon. Friend shares my desire to ensure that we get into a better place on this issue. Let me answer his questions in turn. On R&D and Government support more generally, the Government are making any potential bidders aware of what could be available, but, as he knows, this is a commercial process. It is being managed by an administrator, and many of the actions need to take place at a devolved level. None the less, we will continue—and I do continue—to speak actively to all stakeholders involved, and I am conducting meetings during the course of this week.
On buses more generally, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of Exchequer has made an announcement today to commit £220 million to buses in Great Britain, and there will be additional money for Northern Ireland coming out of that pot. We are also developing the national bus strategy, and I hope that both of those initiatives will mean that the market for buses and the opportunity for the excellent product produced in Ballymena by Wrightbus will be strong and will encourage investors to take the risk to develop the business further.
On the matter of the P45s, my understanding is that the administrator has now written to all employees to communicate the process going forward on redundancies and on the P45s. For the six workers who are currently in Malaysia, the administrator has now taken steps to get those workers home, and I stand ready to address and to help in any way any problems or issues on either of those matters.
Is my right hon. Friend able to make any comment on what seems to be an absurdly large religious donation made by the owners of Wrightbus in recent years? Although the donation was made when the company was profitable, reports cite a figure in the region of £15 million, which seems grossly excessive. Given that these are jobs that Northern Ireland can ill afford to lose, will my right hon. Friend also give some thought to how we can ensure that this matter does not fall between the two stools of its being a devolved matter and there being no devolved Assembly to pick up the reins and run with it?
I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment on the loan. On the question of how the absence of Stormont affects these jobs, yes, not having a devolved Executive is making a big difference, but between Invest NI, the Government, the Northern Ireland civil service and a campaigning and dedicated local MP, we are showing that we can get things done. I hope that we can get some positive news out of what is currently a very difficult situation.
May I join the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) in underlining the importance of this issue? For Ballymena, the loss of 1,200 high-paid, high-skilled jobs is enormous; these jobs matter enormously.
There are a number of questions that arise. First, we need to examine the role of the administrator. In the context of British Steel, the then Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the then Chancellor arranged that the official receiver would take responsibility. This had the effect of keeping British Steel as a going concern. Could we take the same kind of approach to Wrightbus to ensure that there is a possibility that it can be moved on as a going concern, with the existing skilled workforce?
My second question relates to the land. As I understand it, when Japan Tobacco International Gallaher vacated the site, the land was gifted across. I also understand that one of the current drawbacks to a sale of Wrightbus is the possibility that the land will be seen as an asset by those who would make profit from it. It would therefore seem reasonable for the land to be transferred intothe public domain so that there is no question of people profiteering from what was a gift from Japan Tobacco International.
Thirdly, I emphasise the question of the hon. Member for North Antrim regarding investment in the technologies of the future—battery technologies and green technologies—so that Wrightbus can join the other bus manufacturers in the UK that can tour the world selling world-class products.
Having seen the situations at Bombardier, Harland and Wolff, and now at Wrightbus, one thing that is obvious is that three of the marquee names in Northern Ireland manufacturing are under pressure. We need to see an industrial strategy for Northern Ireland now, particularly given the possibility that Brexit will have a dramatic impact, especially if it is a Brexit that sees a border down the Irish sea or across the island of Ireland. We need a strategic view of the long-term future of manufacturing in Northern Ireland.
My experience in Northern Ireland from the two major issues I have been working on recently with regard to the economy—Harland and Wolff, and Wrightbus—is that the administration companies have been working very well with all stakeholders.
As with the Church loan, I do not think it is appropriate for me to comment on the matter of the land, other than to say that I urge anyone who can do anything to unlock the process of making a successful sale to a successful bidder and preserving jobs to do everything they can to be as flexible as possible.
On the matter of low emission buses and bus technology, Wrightbus is second to none in leading-edge bus technology, which is why I remain confident that we can get to a better position than we are currently in and we can protect jobs.
On the interrelationship between Brexit, Wrightbus, Harland and Wolff and Bombardier, I have made it clear since taking this role that it is in the best interests of Northern Ireland that we get a deal. That is what I am doing, and that is what the Prime Minister is doing.
We know that Wrightbus plays a crucial role in manufacturing in Northern Ireland. Once major industrial facilities are lost, they are very difficult to restore. In my experience, a combination of ministerial activism and the strong support of local constituency Members can make a difference, so I commend my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) for the efforts they have been making. I invite them to continue, with all the other things on their plates, to be absolutely tenacious in finding a buyer, and to know that they can count on my support and that of Members across the House in finding the best solution for what can be, in future, a very successful company.
I concur with the many points made about what brilliant products Wrightbus makes and what a tragedy we are faced with. I commend the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) for securing this urgent question.
Surely the issue is that Ministers, or BEIS, must have been aware that there was a cash-flow issue within this company a year or so ago. Charitable donations were being made that far exceeded the £1.7 million loss that the company was facing. At what point were Ministers or BEIS aware of that, and what does it mean for the industrial strategy?
As I drove through London to the House today lots of Wrightbus buses were to be seen, bought by the excellent previous Conservative Mayor. One intervention that could go ahead and make the company viable to be sold is the London Mayor buying the right bus for London, which is Wrightbus.
My friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) and I were in discussions over the summer about how we could promote the manufacturing sector in buses and low-emission buses. That is his commitment to his constituency. What specific conversations has the Secretary of State had with the company, or perhaps with the family, about removing the block on the sale of the land and possibly even taking it into a trust so that manufacturing can continue there?
It seems ironic on the day that announcements are made about money for new buses—I hope a significant amount of that money goes to my constituents in Staffordshire Moorlands—that we are here debating a bus manufacturer in Northern Ireland going into administration. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to Sue Gray, the permanent secretary at the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland, who has worked tirelessly and I know will continue to do so to do all she can for the employees?
One of the best things that the Secretary of State and the Government could do would be to encourage and fund Translink to the tune of £40 million, to enable it to buy the new buses it needs, which would enable Wrightbus to survive, thrive and retain jobs. Will the Secretary of State consider that?
May I urge the Secretary of State to ensure that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working with not only Wrightbus but the Department for International Trade? As a trade envoy, I can testify to the fact that there is considerable interest in this bus in some of the high-density markets, particularly in Latin America, and with support from Government we might be able to get some of those deals over the line.
Through this process, I have become aware of the huge market for buses in South America. My hon. Friend is an exceptionally dynamic trade envoy, and I look forward to meeting him to discuss opportunities for Wrightbus buses if we can get a new buyer for them in the coming weeks.
It might be mismanagement or coincidence, but it looks like the collapse of the PM’s favourite bus builder—apart from himself, with the wine crates—is part of the pattern of his reverse Midas touch in London, with the ticket offices, the water cannon, the tube and the garden bridge. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, as I heard today, the overheating, three-door design of the Boris bus is unusable anywhere else in the world? How much public money was committed to the debacle that contributed to its decline, which, along with Harland and Wolff, spells grave consequences for Northern Ireland’s economy post Brexit, when a majority of people there wanted to remain?
The important message is to ensure that we get the best buyers for Wrightbus and Harland and Wolff. I do not have details on the technical aspects of the bus the hon. Lady mentions, but I think we should focus now on protecting jobs and supporting the local economy.
Like the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), I was very disappointed at this news from Wrightbus, as it is a manufacturer of quality products that I have driven and use daily—upon which you regularly comment, Mr Speaker. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will do everything he can to work with the Northern Irish civil service in the coming days to find a successful bidder, to ensure that the company can continue to manufacture quality products?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for all his work as a Transport Minister. The civil service in Northern Ireland is working very hard, Invest NI is working very hard and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working very hard, as is the local MP, and they will continue to do that over the coming days and weeks.
We daily learn more and more about the daring and distinguished exploits of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones). I have regularly informed the House and those observing our proceedings that, when serving as Under-Secretary of State for buses, he was given to traveling to work by bus, to the obvious delight of his fellow passengers. What I did not know was that he was also in the business of driving buses. Is there any limit to the talents of the hon. Gentleman?
In addition to the tragic loss of 1,200 jobs, this announcement puts at risk more than 1,700 jobs in the supply chain. It has come to our attention that £2 million was paid out to shareholders, and only £1.7 million could save this company. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to recover that money and save these jobs?
The administrator is responsible for the sales process. As I mentioned earlier, there may be a number of things that the administrator and others will want to look at in the coming months, but the immediate task in hand is to find a buyer and to ensure that the Government, Invest NI and all other interested parties support that process.
Given the extent of the job losses in Ballymena and the fact that this company had orders in May for 20 hydrogen-powered buses for TfL, each worth £500,000, does the Secretary of State agree that this is a viable business, if the issue of the donations is set to one side, and that the cash-flow issue around donations to Church charities needs investigating?
May I first say to the Secretary of State that this is a terrible blow for workers across North Antrim, South Antrim, East Antrim and a number of other constituencies? Will he join me in congratulating Mid and East Antrim Borough Council on quickly holding a jobs fair that has identified many job opportunities for those who have been made redundant? May I also thank the Government for the announcement that has been made on spending money for public transport?
This company has a skilled workforce, it is a good product—despite the remarks of the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq)—and if there is demand created through public finance, I believe there is a market for these buses. Does the Secretary of State agree that the opportunities presented when we leave the EU on 31 October and no longer have to abide by EU directives on public procurement give the Government an opportunity to make sure that that money is spent on buying British products?
Is it not the case that this company, with the 1,700-job loss, is a victim twice over: first, because of Brexit, the general uncertainty and the lack of infrastructure investment; and, secondly, because of the dreadful decisions taken since 2010 about the bus industry, with this Government failing to invest in regional buses? Those are the real reasons why 1,700 people have lost their jobs in Northern Ireland today.
It would be wrong to attribute this matter to Brexit, bus strategy or other issues. Very often, one of the issues in a capitalist economy is that companies do run into trouble. It is our job now to do everything we can to get this company out of that trouble.
May I thank the Secretary of State for the personal commitment he has shown to the workers of Wrightbus and, indeed, to Harland and Wolff in my constituency, which he has referred to? The last number of weeks have been a baptism of fire for him, and he will recognise the strong community support for Harland and Wolff in my constituency and for Wrightbus in Ballymena. Having engaged with Invest Northern Ireland and the Departments for the Economy and of Finance, as he has, will he confirm that the exercise of functions and the restoration of the Executive legislation permits civil servants, in the public interest, to take action that is necessary to secure these vibrant jobs and industries in Belfast?
My hon. Friend is right that there are certain powers that can be executed by the Department for the Economy, but the main powers reside with the Executive, which is why we want to get Stormont up and running. I pay tribute to the work he has done, working with the unions, potential investors and the administrator at Harland and Wolff, and I hope we will have some positive news during the course of this week.
Points of order would ordinarily arise at the end of the statement. [Interruption.] Yes, there is a statement to come. The hon. Lady is ahead of herself, which is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons. If she can contain her impatience for a matter of minutes, we will hear the product of her lucubrations before very long.
Health Infrastructure Plan
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the health infrastructure plan announcement.
Our health is the nation’s biggest asset, and the NHS is the Government’s top domestic priority. We are backing our commitment to our NHS with record levels of funding. As part of this, today I am pleased to update the House on the biggest, boldest hospital-building programme in a generation. Through our new health infra- structure plan we are supporting more than 40 hospital- building projects across the country, with six getting the go-ahead immediately—HIP 1. That includes £2.7 billion of investment that gives those six hospitals the funding to press ahead with their plans now, alongside last Friday’s investment in technology to ensure that no CT scanner is more than 10 years old.
The six hospital trusts are Barts Health NHS Trust, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Under HIP 2, a further 21 schemes have been given the go-ahead with £100 million seed funding to go to the next stage of developing their plans, subject to business case development. This £2.8 billion capital investment follows on from August’s £850 million for new upgrades, which included, for example, a £72.3 million investment in the Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. All of this, of course, comes on top of the £33.9 billion cash increase in funding for the day-to-day running of our NHS.
This announcement represents another part of our long-term, strategic investment in the future of the NHS, properly funded and properly planned, to ensure our world-class healthcare staff have world-class facilities to deliver cutting-edge care and to meet the changing needs and rising demand that the NHS will face in the 2020s and beyond. Capital spend on NHS infrastructure is fundamental to high-quality patient care, from well-designed facilities that promote quicker recovery to staff being better able to care for patients using the equipment and technology that they need. It is also essential to the long-term sustainability of the NHS’s ability to meet healthcare need, unlocking efficiencies and helping to manage demand. The investment we are making in our buildings, our technology and our equipment is vitally important in itself, but it is most important because it gives our fantastic NHS staff the tools they need to do the job.
Our staff are at the heart of the NHS, which is why we have invested in the NHS’s workforce. Our interim NHS people plan has set out immediate actions that we will take to reduce vacancies and secure the staff we need for the future—including addressing pensions tax concerns, increasing university clinical placements by over 5,000 more and bolstering the workforce. But it is only right that we invest in the buildings they work in, and in which they provide first-class care for patients. For too long, Governments of all parties have taken a piecemeal and unco-ordinated approach to NHS buildings and infrastructure.
The health infrastructure plan will change that. In the future, every new hospital built or upgraded must deliver our priorities for the NHS, and happen on time and in a planned way, not the current stop-start that we see.
But NHS infrastructure is more than just large hospitals. Pivotal to the delivery of more personalised, preventive healthcare in the NHS long-term plan is more community and primary care away from hospitals. That requires investment in the right buildings and facilities across the board, where staff can utilise technology such as genomics and artificial intelligence to deliver better care and empower people better to manage their own health.
This is only the beginning. The full shape of the investment programme, including wider NHS infrastructure, digital infrastructure, and wider capital investments that support the economy and health system will be confirmed when the Department receives a multi-year capital settlement at the next capital review.
This is a long-term, strategic investment in the future of our NHS, properly funded and properly planned, to ensure that our world-class healthcare staff have world-class facilities to deliver care and meet changing needs and rising demand, so that the NHS can face the 2020s and beyond with confidence.
I welcome the Minister to his place and thank him for advance sight of his statement. I know him to be a decent man—we have worked together on many joint Leicester and Leicestershire campaigns—and I consider him a friend, but I am afraid that we have to hold him and his Government robustly to account. What was announced yesterday was not in fact 40 guaranteed new hospitals but six hospital reconfigurations. It was also not the biggest hospital rebuilding programme in history, because that happened under the last Labour Government.
Of course, I welcome investment in Leicester Royal Infirmary—it is a big investment and to have won it shows what an effective Member of Parliament I am—but will the Minister be clear that that also means a downgrade of Leicester General Hospital, with services closing, including maternity services, and a loss of beds? Will he also tell us what happened with the Epsom and St Helier reconfiguration? Will he confirm that that means moving from two acute services to one in a part of London where accident and emergency pressures are increasing? Will he tell us today whether, across these reconfigurations, the end result will be more beds or fewer?
We know that the NHS is facing a repair bill of £6 billion after years of capital cuts under this Conservative Government, but the Government have so far refused to publish the capital allowances for between next year and 2025. Will the Minister guarantee that the £2.7 billion allocated will be additional to the capital baseline, and will he undertake to publish the NHS departmental expenditure limits on capital spending so that we can be reassured, rather than our assuming that this is all smoke and mirrors?
The Minister has also invited 21 other trusts to make use of a £100 million fund to prepare plans for future upgrades, yet he has just admitted that that will be subject to “business case review”. Is not the truth that the Minister and the Secretary of State cannot give any cast-iron guarantee that each and every one of these hospitals will be upgraded between 2025 and 2030, because not a penny piece of extra investment has been allocated to the programme for 2025 to 2030?
Finally, how were the 21 trusts chosen? In our mental health hospitals, 1,000 patients are forced to stay in quite dire old-style dormitory wards—the Minister might have seen the ones at the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, for example—yet not a single mental health trust is on the list of 21 produced yesterday. Does that not show yet again that this Government neglect mental health services and some of the most vulnerable patients in the land?
What is on this list, Mr Speaker? I will tell you. We have: Hastings and Eastbourne—marginal constituencies; Winchester—a marginal constituency; Plymouth—a marginal constituency; Reading—a marginal constituency; Truro—a marginal constituency; Torbay—a marginal constituency; Barrow—a marginal constituency; and Uxbridge—a marginal constituency. What a spooky coincidence it is that all these marginal constituencies are on the list. This is not a serious plan. It is a wing and a prayer ahead of a general election. The Prime Minister over-spins, under-delivers and is not straight with people—the truth is that you cannot trust the Tories with the NHS.
I will at least start by expressing gratitude to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words at the beginning of his remarks. As he says, we work closely together in our city and county, although I suspect that that spirit of co-operation might not extend across these Dispatch Boxes. None the less, it is a pleasure to stand opposite him. Although I would not agree with his characterisation of where the money has gone, is he, on the basis of that characterisation, suggesting that his own seat is a marginal constituency?
I find it extraordinary that the shadow Secretary of State takes opposition to a new level by opposing investment in our NHS, trying to cavil and challenge it. He will forgive me if I do not take his specific questions in the same order as he asked them, but I will run through as many of them as I can recall or as I noted down.
On mental health, I have to say that I find it very difficult to take lessons from the hon. Gentleman when this Government have invested huge additional sums in mental health care. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, we have allocated capital for Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust—the announcement was made earlier this summer—and for Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, so I think the hon. Gentleman is perhaps being a little unfair in suggesting there is no investment in mental health from this Government.
This is an ambitious programme, but unlike the last Labour Government, we will not leave hospitals saddled with masses of private finance initiative debt. That programme was massively expanded under the Labour Government he served as a special adviser. Perhaps he should welcome this Government’s approach, which is to give hospitals the funding they need to deliver without saddling them with debt.
We have made it clear that the hospitals named in HIP 1 have the funding to go ahead, including the hospitals that serve his constituency and mine. I am a little surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman challenge the notion that anyone bidding for huge sums of public money should have to go through a business case. Surely when we are spending public money, it is reasonable of us to make sure it delivers value for money and better outcomes for patients. I know the Labour party does not pay much attention to value for money, but my party and this Government do. We are focused on patient outcomes and delivering investment in our NHS. We can say proudly that, with this raft of announcements, the extra £33 billion and the announcements made already, we truly are the party of the NHS.
I very much welcome the allocation of £450 million to Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust. We are keen to work with the Department. Local NHS leaders are eager to work on producing a good business plan that meets the needs of patients and staff in Cornwall. When will the seed funding enabling them to develop those plans be available? If all goes as well, as I am sure it will, we will be able to start building those new facilities in 2025.
I know that my hon. Friend’s local hospital trust and her constituents have no greater champion in this place than her. She is right to highlight the allocation to Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust. The seed funding was announced yesterday and is there now, so we hope that the trust will get to work using that money to develop plans to improve services at local hospitals.
I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of his statement.
UK Government decisions on pension costs and funding already result in a shortfall of £48.4 million for the NHS in Scotland, which comes on top of the UK Government making wider budget reductions in health funding for Scotland of £42 million compared with their previously claimed level of consequentials. Scotland now faces a shortfall of £90 million for its health services as a result of UK Government decisions. Now that the UK Government have apparently opened the spending taps, will they pay back the moneys due to Scotland, or will we continue to be short-changed? When will the full Barnett consequentials of this new investment be published?
In total, the Tories’ decade of austerity has cumulatively cut the Scottish block grant by more than £12 billion in real terms. With the economy already faltering, the Chancellor’s predecessor warned that a destructive no-deal Brexit could inflict a £90 billion hit on the Exchequer and suggested that no new money would be available. How then can the Minister guarantee that this money will come to the NHS?
As my hon. Friend might guess, I am delighted by the announcement about Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, which will find favour with hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have been talking about it for a long time, and this is the first genuine movement.
I have a tiny, slightly off-the-wall additional request. As my hon. Friend is aware, I have a declared interest in dentistry, which means that every time the word “health” comes up, I get prodded in the back by my colleagues. In most western nations, 60%, 70% or 80% of the public water supply is fluoridated. It is a proven caries prevention. Would he include in his plans the infrastructure to greatly expand the fluoridation of our water supply? It would bring benefits in terms of prevention and, in due course, cost.
As he said, my hon. Friend showed some dexterity in asking that question, but I am happy to reassure him. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), is looking at this matter, and I am sure that she will be happy to discuss it with him further.
I would always welcome more money for our NHS, but as always the devil is in the detail. The “Shaping a healthier future” programme proposed the closure of four A&Es in north-west London, at a cost of £76 million, but just six months ago the Health Secretary stood at that Dispatch Box to declare the scheme scrapped. The author of that scheme, Daniel Elkeles, is now the chief executive at St Helier, where he is plotting to use these latest funds to reduce two A&Es to one—away from those most in need—which would place intolerable pressure on nearby St George’s. Does the Minister not see a pattern here?
I always think it a little unfair in this House to name or attack individuals where they do not have the ability to answer back. The Government have made it clear that the announcement today and yesterday is about putting more money into our NHS, which will improve services for the hon. Lady’s constituents and for those across the capital and indeed the country.
Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust faces some particular challenges in delivering across two district hospitals and the community hospital to a relatively small population but one that has a big and complicated geography. Goole Hospital, for example, is still operating on a coal-fired boiler. I will write to the Minister following this, of course, but can he look at the particular requests we have with regard to the backlog of works at the trust?
My hon. Friend is quite right to highlight that in certain parts of the country, including his constituency, geography can present a challenge for the delivery of services. I look forward to his letter and will be very happy to respond and to look into the matter with him.
With a £1.3 billion maintenance backlog, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which includes St Mary’s, which serves my constituency, faces the largest challenges in the country and has been waiting for years for the approval to go ahead with the St Mary’s development. In recent years, we have seen the Grafton ward closed because of significant structural concerns, with the loss of 32 beds; a ceiling collapse in Thistlewayte ward; the Paterson centre flooded; and floods, electrical issues and drainage issues commonplace across the whole estate. Can the Minister guarantee me that today’s announcement will mean no repeat of these sorts of problems in St Mary’s in the coming months, and how does he feel it will be better served by the £200 million deficit the trust has and the £120 million deficit in our local clinical commissioning groups?
As the hon. Lady will recall, many years ago, when I had more hair and it was not so grey, I sat on Westminster City Council, and St Mary’s was an issue back then that we discussed on various occasions. She is right to highlight it, but I would have expected her to very much welcome the inclusion of Imperial and St Mary’s in the announcement of seed funding to develop their proposals and get the investment they need.
We are rather pleased in Winchester at today’s announcement and with our place within it. My constituents do not care about the political knockabout in this House. They love their hospital and are really pleased that it is going to be invested in. Will the Minister confirm how the seed funding process will work in the immediate term—we are in wave 2, but we are keen to get cracking so that we are ready—and will he also confirm that this is a huge vote of confidence in the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester, not just from the Government, but from the NHS as well?
I know that, since my hon. Friend was first elected to this House, he has made health and the NHS his No. 1 priority. He served with distinction as a Minister in the Department and continues to champion his constituents’ interests in this respect. On the seed funding, we have made the announcement and are keen to get the money to those trusts as swiftly as possible so they can work with us to develop their plans. I agree entirely that its inclusion in this list is a vote of confidence from us and the NHS in the work his local hospital is doing.
I thank the Minister for his statement. He said that the Government would focus on outcomes, and he mentioned £200 million for new CT scanners for diagnosis, but The Times recently published the details of answers to freedom of information requests indicating that half of NHS trusts are treating cancer patients with out-of-date radiotherapy machines. The UK will remain at the bottom of the cancer survival league until we dramatically improve our radiotherapy services, so what steps is he taking to implement the “Manifesto For Radiotherapy”, invest in modern radiotherapy equipment and train personnel in IT networks, to provide modern radiotherapy services to cancer patients in every region of the UK, not just those in London and the south-east?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question and for the tone in which he asks it; it is an extremely important point and he makes it well. The investment in CT scanners and X-ray machines is an important start. It means that none of them will be over 10 years old, which is hugely important. He is absolutely right to talk about treatment, the workforce and the many parts of the system that provide effective cancer care. Although it is a specialist hospital, I recently visited the Royal Marsden Hospital in London to see the amazing research and work being done there. He is absolutely right that we must continue to promote that specialism and expertise right across the country to ensure that everyone gets the diagnosis, treatment and cancer care that they deserve. I would be happy to meet him subsequently to discuss the manifesto he highlighted.
I welcome this fantastic announcement. Our fantastic NHS staff are expected to deliver modern NHS services in buildings that were designed for a completely different era. Therefore, when considering the proposals that will come forward from Cornwall, will he pay particular attention to those that involve modern technology, so that people do not have to travel to the centre to receive diagnosis and treatment?
In 2003, the Labour Government opened Hull’s women and children’s hospital, which is where I had the “pleasure” of giving birth to my two children. However, the main Hull Royal Infirmary site is a 50-year-old tower block that is in need of serious investment, so it is a shame that the Government have not even attempted to match the previous Labour Government’s NHS investment in Hull. Can the Minister at least explain how he will fund the existing maintenance backlog?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. This Government will invest in our NHS without leaving it saddled with private finance initiative debt for many decades to come. However, she is absolutely right to highlight the need to manage a backlog of works, because many of the buildings are old and not entirely fit for purpose. This announcement represents a huge step forward in that, alongside the work that has already been set in train through the Naylor review of the management of NHS capital and property maintenance. I believe that we are making significant strides forward in that. If she wished to write to me about the specific issues with her hospital trust, I would be happy to respond to her on those as well.
I, alongside my wonderful right hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Dame Eleanor Laing) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), have been campaigning hard for a new hospital in Harlow, and we are delighted by the Minister’s announcement that we will now be getting it. Will he send us the full details about the process? We are delighted that we are in the first wave of six. I ask him not only to visit the hospital, but to pay special tribute to the incredible domestic and support staff, the nurses, doctors and consultants, and the management team, led by the chief executive Lance McCarthy, because for years they have done an incredible job, against the odds, in a building that was not fit for purpose. Will he pay tribute to those wonderful NHS staff?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is right to highlight the work for his local hospital by our hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) and by the right hon. Member for Epping Forest (Dame Eleanor Laing) who, given the nature of her office, may not speak but works incredibly hard for her constituents on this. My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) has a strong track record of campaigning successfully on a range of issues, so I suppose he will be pleased that yet again he has secured a victory for his constituents and his area. I join him in paying tribute to Lance McCarthy and the entire team at the hospital and the trust.
Every day, our NHS staff go above and beyond everyone’s expectations in whatever buildings, to make sure that they deliver first-class care for all our constituents and, indeed, for us all. I will happily write to my right hon. Friend setting out the process in more detail. I believe that my predecessor in this role was due to visit on the day on which he was reshuffled, so I very much look forward to taking up that invitation if it is extended and coming to see my right hon. Friend.
It is said in the House that the vote follows the voice. On NHS infrastructure, it seems that the cash follows the camera. On that basis, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to pop round to Ealing Hospital, where he will be welcome? In his statement, he referred to staffing as well as infrastructure, so is he prepared to be asked about the current situation on nursing bursaries? Would he care to share his thoughts with the House?
It was one of his better ones. I will happily take up the hon. Gentleman’s invitation to visit his local hospital, which, as I recall, he told me was opened by Lord Patrick Jenkin. I am always happy to visit hospitals with colleagues, and when I do so I am always happy to talk to any staff members who want to talk to me about anything that is of concern to them. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the importance of adequate supplies of nurses for our NHS, both in the recruitment and training of new nurses. We also need to focus to returnees, whatever the reason they left the profession, and tempt them back. He is absolutely right, and I look forward to seeing him in his hospital.
I thank the Minister and the Health Secretary for the announcement that North Devon is one of the areas that will benefit from investment. I thank the Minister and his predecessors for listening to all the lobbying and campaigning, which proves the truth, Mr Speaker, of your oft-repeated mantra that persistence pays. Will he accept an invitation to come and visit North Devon with me, to work with the trust to get these plans going, particularly in a place such as North Devon, to ensure that we can deliver these services sustainably, including to areas that are more rural and isolated?
My hon. Friend is right that persistence does pay off, and it certainly has done so in his case on behalf of his constituents. He is right to highlight the importance of the sustainability of services, which is what we are seeking to do with the investment, and also ensuring that services are designed to reflect the geography and needs of the local population, to ensure that they have access to the healthcare that they need when they need it. He kindly invited me to visit. I suspect that it is a little easier to visit Ealing than Devon, but I shall endeavour to do so.
As a Mancunian MP, I am absolutely sickened to see Members on the Government Benches today. If you will forgive the personal pronoun, you should be in Manchester spending your hard-earned wages on our economy. [Interruption.] I was just trying to take the toxicity out of the place.
The NHS is a devolved matter in Greater Manchester, but NHS financial technicalities are holding back the redevelopment of the wonderful Wythenshawe Hospital in my constituency. Will the Minister meet me to discuss those technicalities?
If it is any reassurance to the hon. Gentleman, I can say that I was enjoying Manchester yesterday and this morning, and then came down here to enjoy being at the Dispatch Box. Let me also say that if he wanted to see fewer of us here and rather more in Manchester, perhaps he should have voted in favour of a small recess to allow us to go and support the economy of his city. As for his question about the hospital trust, of course I should be very happy to meet him.
We had some bad news in Banbury last week about our obstetric unit, but partly as a consequence, two positive steps have been taken. I have met the Secretary of State twice in the past week, and I have managed to get the clinical commissioning group and the head of the trust on the same page, and we were able to apply for some seed funding. Can the Minister assure me that he will look on that application favourably and that we will make Horton General Hospital fit for the future?
I know the Horton well from my time as the parliamentary candidate for Oxford East, which I fought in 2010 and which, sadly, fought back. I also know of the work that my hon. Friend has done since before her time in the House in campaigning in the hospital’s interests. I will certainly look carefully at any application that is made, and I will judge it swiftly and fairly, as will the Secretary of State.
I warmly welcome the investment in Whipps Cross University Hospital, which is one of the six projects that have actually been committed to, as opposed to the 40-odd that have been promised. However, as the Prime Minister found during his recent visit to the hospital, when he met my constituent Omar Salem, all is not well in respect of the consistency of the care provided there—not because of a lack of dedication on the part of the staff, but because the hospital and, indeed, the wider Barts Health NHS Trust do not receive the funding that they need to cater for such a large population across the whole of east London. I welcome the investment in the fabric of the hospital, but what will the Minister do to ensure that my constituents receive a consistently excellent quality of care when they visit the hospital?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman both for his question and for the reasonable tone in which he pitched it. [Interruption.] Indeed, he is always reasonable. As he knows, the capital investment will allow for investment in a new hospital, providing a range of services across emergency, maternity and specific out-patient and other diagnostic services. As for consistency of care and the experience of patients, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to pay tribute to the fantastic work done day in, day out by the NHS workforce, and that is why we have seen that workforce grow under this Government. Equally, however, when I visit hospitals, as I have done since I was appointed, I observe that the infrastructure and the buildings in which they operate can play a huge part in delivering not only consistency of care, but speed of care and speed of access. That capital investment in the hon. Gentleman’s local hospital will play a huge part in giving its excellent staff the tools with which to do their job and the environment in which to do it, and he will see that delivering better and more consistent care to patients.
During the summer, we welcomed the £30.6 million investment in a new urgent care centre at Stepping Hill Hospital. Does the Minister agree, however, that support will be needed for infrastructure, particularly for adequate car parking? That is a big issue for local residents, who regularly experience problems parking.
The right hon. Gentleman will know from his time in government that the approvals process conducted by the Treasury and, indeed, the NHS is not always the simplest. We are looking into what we can do to ensure that it is better streamlined, while also delivering value for money for taxpayers and the assurance that is required. However, it is important that this money—while not tied to the same conditions as the ruinous PFI deals entered into by the previous Labour Government—does deliver value, and we know that it is delivering on outcomes for patients.
I thank the Minister for the decision, principally in listening to the outstanding campaign led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), which will benefit east Herts, Harlow and, indeed, the Epping Forest area. May I also say that the Minister need not be defensive, because we have not forgotten that when Labour was in government, it chose not to build a new hospital in our area but to scrap those proposals? We need take no lessons from the Opposition.
I am pleased that two of the trio who have fought so hard for my hon. Friend’s local hospitals and services have had the opportunity to contribute. He is absolutely right to say that while the Labour party talks the talk, when we look at its track record in government, we see that all too often it absolutely failed to deliver by scrapping services or saddling trusts with debt.
The finances at King’s College Hospital were destabilised in 2011, when the Lib Dem-Tory coalition forced King’s to take on two additional hospitals following the failure of another hospital trust. King’s is now struggling with the greatest financial challenge of any hospital trust in the UK. It is desperately in need of capital investment to enable it to meet local needs. Will the Minister explain to this House and, more importantly, to the hard-working staff at King’s—whose life-saving and life-enhancing work every single day is so important in our area and across London, where their work was critical in responding to the Grenfell Tower tragedy and to the Westminster bridge and London bridge terror attacks—why there is not a single penny for King’s College Hospital in today’s announcement?
While I recognise and pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her championing, as one would expect, of her constituents and local hospital, I am sure she will none the less welcome this Government’s massive investment in our NHS. I hear what she says about her own local hospital, and she is right to highlight the work done by the staff, who do amazing work day in, day out, particularly in the aftermath of some incredibly challenging disasters. I would be very happy to meet and talk to her in more detail about the finances of her hospital and trust since 2011, if she feels that would be useful.
I welcome my hon. Friend to his role and wish him every success. I also welcome this Government’s continuing investment in the NHS, particularly that in the Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust. Does he agree that it will provide high-quality A&E services for my residents, maintain key services at the St Helier site and confound those naysayers who said that this Government were going to shut that hospital?
My hon. Friend was a distinguished predecessor of mine in this post. He is very much missed by the Department and, I am sure, by all those working in the NHS who came into contact with him. He rightly highlights the positive news in this announcement, including for his hospital trust. This money will allow it to invest and for the hospitals to continue providing first-class services to his constituents.
The £100 million seed funding needs to be put in context, which for Oldham is a £95 million capital requirement just for basic maintenance and upgrading, so it is not really a significant investment at all. More importantly, I am here to call and collect. Two years ago, the Government promised £80 million for Greater Manchester as part of the Healthier Together proposals, but they still have not written the cheque. So, fewer announcements, more cash, please.
May I welcome my hon. Friend’s announcement that the Government are backing Basingstoke’s plan for a new hospital to serve not just north Hampshire but across mid-Hampshire? It has the support of our local council and local residents. However, the 1970s buildings in which my incredible doctors and nurses and chief executive Alex Whitfield work are already creaking at the seams and are very expensive to maintain. What can my hon. Friend do to support the hospital’s bid and to ensure that a new hospital is in place as swiftly as possible, so that the money is not patching up the old but building the new?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. This money will be hugely important to doing exactly what she says: investing in our NHS buildings for the long term, so reducing the reliance on expensive capital repairs.
With this plan, we are also looking to deliver a step change in how we deal with capital in the NHS, which is also hugely important. Instead of stop-start investment, we are looking for a rolling programme of investment to make sure we get those facilities up to standard in order to reduce the day-to-day spend on repairs. I will happily talk to my right hon. Friend about what we can do to ensure that we go through due process as swiftly as possible so that her hospital trust can get on with it.
I worked on many business cases for capital projects during my long NHS career. These projects are important to local people, but local people across the country were misled over the weekend. This is a proposal to give permission to think about building a hospital; they are not new hospitals. The Government’s own response to the Naylor report said that sustainability and transformation partnerships are the chosen means of planning and delivering capital projects, so how were STPs consulted about which projects to progress?
The hon. Lady, as she says, comes to this with a wealth of experience. The bids were put forward by individual trusts working with their STPs, and in the context of the STPs that have been developed. There is a synthesis and a read across to ensure that, in this announcement, we have picked the trusts that put together the most compelling bids in order to deliver value for money and improvements where they are needed.
I welcome my hon. Friend to his new post and, of course, I welcome the investment he has announced, but he will recognise that, however new the hospital, being an in-patient can be a profoundly distressing experience for someone with dementia. Good design can help tremendously, so will he do all he can to ensure that the best possible design standards are used when building these hospitals, with the interests of people with dementia in mind?
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point that is close to my heart, as a former co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on dementia. I recently, or relatively recently, had the opportunity to visit Leicester Royal Infirmary, which has done exactly that and worked with the Alzheimer’s Society and others to create a dementia-friendly ward. He is right that that sort of thing should be hardwired into our designs as we upgrade hospitals.
Had the Minister conducted an appraisal of the full NHS estate, he would have realised that mental health hospitals are not on his list. In the light of the urgent need for a new child and adolescent mental health services unit in York, how did he miss CAMHS from his list? This will have a real impact on clinical services.
The hon. Lady makes an important point about mental health and the services for those with mental health needs. This announcement is very much focused on acute hospitals, and investment was recently announced for mental health services in, for example, Mersey Care and Manchester. Indeed, my own county recently invested in a new unit.
The hon. Lady raises a specific point, and it would be wrong to suggest that this Government are not investing in mental health services. However, if she wishes to discuss the specifics of her constituency and of the needs in Yorkshire, I would be happy to meet her.
I wholeheartedly and unreservedly welcome the massive £450 million investment in the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust. It is every penny that management and clinicians said they need to ensure that we have world-class healthcare facilities for the people of Leicester and Leicestershire. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that this Government abandoned the discredited Labour funding mechanism of PFI? PFI stood for “private finance initiative,” but it should have stood for “pay for indefinitely”.
My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour makes a positive point, perhaps in contrast with some of the points made by Opposition Members, in welcoming the huge investment that we will see in the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust. Although the hospitals are in the constituency of the shadow Secretary of State, the work to campaign for this money has been a team effort, across all parties and all constituencies, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) and for Harborough (Neil O'Brien) in that context. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) is right to highlight PFI again. It was massively expanded under the previous Labour Government, who ran it so badly that it left trusts saddled with debt.
On Friday, I had a meeting with Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, whose chief executive said to me:
“The impact of low levels of funding over seven years has been longer and more impactful than when funding was squeezed by the Mrs Thatcher Government. More investment is required to increase staff training and in turn employ more qualified health staff.”
We know that hospitals in towns are often not funded to the same level as hospitals in cities, so could the Minister give me the number of hospitals in towns that are not in marginal seats which are having extra hospitals and funding? Will he meet me to discuss extra funding for Dewsbury’s hospital?
The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. I am sure she would therefore welcome what we are doing, which is addressing capital funding needs with a long-term, rolling programme of capital investment to address both the immediate need and the shortfalls from the previous Labour Government’s landing trusts with PFI debt. On her local hospital, and the need to invest in cottage hospitals, community hospitals and town hospitals, I will of course meet her.
I realised from the earlier exchanges how lucky I was, because my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) did visit my local hospital, Leek Moorlands Hospital, but please do not let that stop the incumbent from adding it to his address book, because he would be very welcome any time he feels like a visit to north Staffordshire. Can the Minister confirm that this investment is possible because of this Government’s careful stewardship of the economy and that these hospitals will not be saddled with debt, as the ones built on PFI were?
My right hon. Friend is right. In my previous role, I enjoyed a visit to her constituency to visit a prison with her and I am more than happy, although I am sure my officials will wince at the diary management involved, to take her up on her offer of a visit as well. She is exactly right: we are able to make this investment because, unlike the previous Labour Government, who left that note saying, “Sorry, there is no money”, we have stewarded the national finances well and we now have the money to invest.
There was nothing in the announcement about Southport and Formby District General Hospital, which desperately needs a new walk-in centre to relieve the pressure on the accident and emergency department, and nothing about the much-needed health centres in Maghull and Formby, also in my constituency. Given the cancellation and delay in previous projects, and the growing repairs backlog, why should anyone think that these projects will go ahead in the way the Minister has announced any more than previous projects that have not?
The hon. Gentleman is understandably and rightly fighting the corner for his local trust and local hospitals, but I am sure he would none the less welcome the huge investment by this Government in our NHS that this announcement amounts to. On delivering on these commitments, we are clear: we want to see these hospitals built as swiftly as possible. Unlike the Labour party, when we say we will do it, we get on with doing it.
As the Minister knows, in his short time in office I have been pinging his ear, as I did his predecessor’s, over the investment we need in west Hertfordshire. The Secretary of State kindly took a call from me at the weekend. Now £400 million is welcome, but not if we are going to chuck it into Watford Hospital, which is a Victorian hospital that took all the work from Hemel Hempstead Hospital when Labour closed our acute hospital. Hemel Hempstead is the largest town in Hertfordshire. We welcome the money, but we would like a new hospital where we could look after St Albans, Hitchin and Harpenden, Watford and Hemel Hempstead in the 21st century—we do not want to plough this into a Victorian hospital.
My right hon. Friend rightly campaigns vociferously for his constituents in Hemel Hempstead, and I know he has spoken to the Secretary of State about this issue on several occasions. No formal decision has been made on the detail. He will know that his hospital trust has a view. I hope he will continue to engage with the trust and with us Ministers, and that he will put the points that he just put to the House to us in a meeting.
Around 15 years ago, when there was a Labour Government, we had a new hospital in Bishop Auckland. My constituents want to know why it is not used properly. In particular, will the Minister look at the latest proposal to close the stroke rehabilitation ward—ward 3—and reverse it?
The hon. Lady highlights an issue of great importance to her constituents and her local hospital. As she will be aware, decisions on changes to services are made by local NHS trusts and clinicians, to reflect their assessment of the best way to deliver care and meet clinical need in a particular locality. If she wishes to write to me about the details of her local hospital and the issue she just highlighted, I would be happy to respond as swiftly as possible.
The delivery of healthcare in rural settings presents some complex challenges, so I was delighted to hear what my hon. Friend said in his statement about the importance of community hospitals. Dorset is in phase 2, for want of a better phrase; will the Minister flesh out, to the best of his knowledge, how that will come about, the timeframe and what my residents should expect?
I notice that my hon. Friend did not invite me to visit Dorset, although I visit him fairly regularly anyway so may well take advantage of such an occasion. The seed funding in the HIP 2 for Dorset is for the trust to develop its proposals for 12 community hospitals. That is an improvement. He is absolutely right to highlight the importance of community hospitals in a large rural county with transport challenges, given its rurality, and often an older population in some villages. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), if it is helpful, I will be happy to write to my hon. Friend to set out the process by which his local trust will work with the seed funding.
I spoke to Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust earlier and asked what there might be from this announcement for our local hospitals; I was referred to the Conservative party press release, which is the only information that the trust has so far received. If I divide up the seed money between the three major hospitals that will get some money, I see that we could get as much as £9 million for planning for currently unfunded work that could happen in six to 10 years. That can be compared with £76 million wasted on consultants; £170 million, which is the current-year deficit for north-west London; and £1.3 billion, which is the Imperial maintenance backlog. We need that money now. When are we going to see it?
The hon. Gentleman made several points. I am pleased that he has been enjoying improving reading of Conservative party press releases. On his serious point about the Imperial trust, the seed funding will be for the trust to develop its plans as a trust and to put forward its proposals. I am happy, as I am in respect of other colleagues, to write to the hon. Gentleman to set out the process, how the money will be spent and how swiftly it can be allocated. There is always a need for the development of a business case when large sums of public money are involved, and I am sure he would expect one for any major investment in his trust. The seed funding will enable the trust to get going quickly and put together its case.
I welcome the excellent announcement of the seed money for Royal Preston Hospital. This is indeed a great day for healthcare in Lancashire. Will the Minister assure us that he will work with right hon. and hon. Members to shape the health vision for this part of our county?
Again, I am happy to welcome the positivity from my hon. Friend and the welcome for this money; the welcome for this massive additional investment into our NHS has been clear on the Conservative Benches. I am, of course, happy to give him the commitment that he wishes, which is to work with him and his colleagues to make sure that his constituents continue to get the healthcare that they need.
The King’s Fund has commented on the recent announcements:
“these piecemeal announcements are not the same as having a proper, multi-year capital funding plan.”
So could the Minister clarify by what criteria these schemes have been selected, and what are his spending plans for the long term to repair our crumbling NHS?
The hon. Lady refers to piecemeal announcements. I have to say that the reason we are now coming up with an approach—a new approach—that delivers rolling capital investment to a strategic vision linked to investment elsewhere in the health service is that, singularly, the previous Government utterly failed to do that. On criteria and process, as I mentioned, the bids considered were put forward by individual NHS trusts and we have considered them against the usual bidding process value-for-money criteria. If it is helpful to her, as with other colleagues to whom I have committed to write, I will be happy to write to her about process rather than the specifics of individual hospitals. If there is a particular trust that she wishes to highlight to me, if she writes to me, I will include the response on that in the letter.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his statement, which is so encouraging because it demonstrates our long-term ambitious plans for the NHS? I was particularly pleased to see the investment in CT scanners as technology and medicine are moving so fast. Does he agree that the screening programmes in the NHS, supported by the capital budget that he is announcing today, are helping to save lives and that we must do all we can to encourage these programmes?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are investing to make sure that, when people need care, that care is there for them, but he is absolutely right to highlight that prevention is always better than cure. The investment that we are making in these CT scanners and X-ray machines and, indeed, the steps forward that we are seeing in the research and development of new technologies, all contribute to improving our ability to prevent illnesses.
May I express to the Minister my disappointment that, in the list of hospitals, there is not one in the whole of the west midlands? I say that in particular because when, in January 2018, Carillion went bust, a major casualty was the half-completed, but much-needed, Midland Metropolitan Hospital. After long representations to his negotiations, the new contract with Balfour Beatty has now been sent to both his Department and the Treasury. It just needs ministerial sign-off, so will he go back to his Department, get out the file and get this project moving?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right to highlight the challenges about Midland Metropolitan Hospital. I know, in the spirit of bipartisan sentiment, how hard he has been working on that issue on behalf of his constituents, and I also know how hard Toby Lewis has been working on this as well in running that hospital trust. I have looked into the matter recently. I am very happy to meet him to talk through with him where we are and what the next steps are because, like him, I am keen that we get things moving.
Record numbers of patients are being treated at Kettering General Hospital with increasingly world-class treatments. The difficulty that we have at Kettering General Hospital is the A&E department, which, when it was constructed 25 years ago, was designed to cope with 45,000 visitors and is expected to go through 100,000 attendances this year. The solution is an urgent care hub. There is already a fully worked-up business plan in place. May I welcome the addition of Kettering General Hospital on the list of future projects and ask: when can the hospital expect the money and when can it expect to start to build the new urgent care hub?